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Thursday, April 4, 2002
Florida receivers battle history
By Len Pasquarelli

Since the 1997 draft, there have been four former University of Florida wide receivers selected in the first or second rounds. That number will expand by two this year with Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell ranked among the top prospects at the position.

For all their brilliance in Gainesville, however, big numbers produced by Gators star receivers have hardly carried over to the NFL. And as a result, Gaffney and Caldwell are the latest who'll have to demonstrate to scouts that they aren't simply products of the Steve Spurrier system.

"It's kind of like the (stigma) that surrounded Penn State running backs after Blair Thomas and Ki-Jana Carter flopped," said an NFC personnel director. "I'm not going to downgrade those two kids this year, because they're both good players, but the history of the Florida wide receivers is in the back of your mind, for sure."

Simply put, the receivers who have played in Spurrier's "fun and gun" offense have mostly fired blanks in the NFL. The four highly regarded receivers chosen since '97 -- Ike Hilliard, Reidel Anthony, Jacquez Green and Travis Taylor -- all are solid performers.

But none has lived up to the expectations of the teams that selected them. Two of them, Anthony and Green, this spring exited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the club that drafted them, and signed on with Spurrier and the Washington Redskins.

Certainly none of the onetime Gators star receivers excelled in his rookie campaign, mirroring a lack of production leaguewide by first-year wideouts the past six years. The four totaled just 79 receptions, 1,017 yards and nine touchdowns as rookies.

But those numbers are skewed because Hilliard and Taylor both suffered injuries as rookies. Taylor, in fact, was on his way to a solid season when he sustained a serious knee injury. That said, none of the four has risen to Pro Bowl caliber, and the suspicion of several scouts is that the offensive design of Spurrier is so sophisticated on the college level that it inflates receivers' numbers.

They point out that the "fun and gun" is so precise, and Spurrier so calculated in calling plays, the Florida wide receivers are typically running unchecked through the secondary. "It's a system kind of thing," said one regional scout for an NFC team. "That's why the receivers that he sends (to the NFL) aren't nearly as good at our level. They don't adapt very quickly."

That won't stop teams from choosing Gaffney and Caldwell in two weeks, but there will be a few franchises who figure to balk at the Florida wideouts, given the track record of their predecessors.

Len Pasquarelli is an senior writer.